Miley Cyrus and Pharrell review, Doctor (Work It Out): Pop star conquers where a lesser singer would quail

Miley Cyrus in artwork for her Pharrell collaboration ‘Doctor (Work It Out)' (Press)
Miley Cyrus in artwork for her Pharrell collaboration ‘Doctor (Work It Out)' (Press)

Miley Cyrus has a knack for making any song her own. Consider the 31-year-old’s spellbinding rendition of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” at Glastonbury in 2019, or her transcendent cover of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” at the Super Bowl Music Fest in 2022. Further evidence can be found in her performance of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” alongside her fellow judges on The Voice US, or her cover of “Zombie” by The Cranberries at Whisky a Go Go in 2021.

Some of this is down to the star’s natural charisma, which delighted the Grammys audience last month when she accepted the award for Record of the Year. It’s also in large part thanks to her voice, among the best of her generation in spite of vocal surgery and trauma caused by her home burning down in 2018, an event Cyrus said was so devastating that it changed her natural register.

She weaponises these qualities on “Doctor (Work It Out)”, a collaboration with Pharrell – who teased the track at a recent Louis Vuitton show – that is rumoured to have been written before the release of her 2013 album Bangerz. Back then, Cyrus was a notorious twentysomething wild child whose headline-making antics frequently threatened to overshadow her musical talents. But Bangerz – an erratic but captivating amalgamation of pop, dance, country, electronic – did plenty of talking, too.

More than 10 years later, Cyrus proves she can still conquer where a lesser singer would quail. “Doctor” is not a torch song like “Wrecking Ball”, nor is it a self-love anthem akin to her 2023 mega-hit “Flowers”. It’s a glam-pop-rock jam, on which Cyrus lets loose and invites you to join her, shimmying and simmering, atop Pharrell’s funky bass hook. “I feel like working it out,” she declares over a grinding guitar. “If that’s something you wanna do.”

Its melody and rhythm aren’t dissimilar to “I Wanna Be Your Slave”, the horny single from Italian Eurovision champions Maneskin. Like them, Cyrus has no qualms when announcing her intentions, purring into the mic: “A midnight medication/ Just show me where it hurts/ I need to rock you baby/ Before your body burns.” Cyrus elevates what could’ve been a forgettable bop, adding the thrills and spills with a gasp, a moan, an “oww!!”.

Callbacks to her and Pharrell’s history shimmer and sway like the fringe on Cyrus’s silver Grammys dress. The sly beat of the intro is redolent of the one on “Blurred Lines”, Pharrell’s controversial collaboration with Robin Thicke that dropped the same year as Bangerz. And there’s a whisper of his Neptunes side-project NERD in the song’s hi-hat and subtle Latin inflections, as if Cyrus heard “She Wants to Move” and came back with her own proposition.

It’s certainly a tempting one. “Doctor” is delivered flawlessly by two pop masterminds. Who are we to resist?